Press Online button.As we saw in the previous post, real data on MOOCs is just starting to become available. Using the results of studies, as well as the combined experiences of instructors and learners, we can start to define the factors that make MOOCs successful. The first article took a global approach, focusing on technology, support, and other aspects of the digital learning environment. This article takes a more microscopic approach, exploring MOOCs on the level of individual courses.

Clear objectives

There are many different types of MOOCs out there and many different ways to participate in them. This is one of the great advantages of the format—it is flexible so learners can adapt the courses to meet their individual needs (e.g., determining their own objectives, choosing what content to engage with, deciding which social learning tools to use, etc.). But more formal environments, like corporate training, require clearly stated and achievable objectives that are directly relevant to the job requirements. Even when using third-party MOOCs or MOOC elements, trainers may need to develop the desired learning objectives and communicate them to learners.


As informal learning environments, MOOCs don’t have any built-in accountability. But as training and development departments are well aware, no accountability usually leads to no results. Accountability can be incorporated into MOOCs in a couple of ways. For example, a high school in Missouri is experimenting with allowing students to take MOOCs for credit. In addition to completing the courses, students are required to demonstrate their learning by completing a project. Businesses that want to benefit from MOOCs should consider ways, beyond certificates of completion, to hold employees accountable for their training.

Instructor as facilitator

The availability of information online has steadily been changing the role of the instructor in classrooms from elementary schools to corporate universities. Instructors no longer need to focus on delivering content, because content is available at our fingertips. As Kyle Peck wrote over at Evolllution, “People can learn without being taught. Technologies can do a better job of conveying information and developing understanding than can lectures.”

MOOCs should not just be regular courses videotaped and put online—this method is not only inefficient in terms of learning, but also it doesn’t put the technology to its best possible use. Good MOOCs are designed from the ground up as complete digital learning environments, and part of this design is to shift the role of the instructor from being primarily a deliverer of content to being a facilitator for learning. In a facilitator role, instructors point learners to curated resources, initiate and moderate discussions, and provide opportunities for students to connect with one another. They also design meaningful assessments and develop ways to provide feedback, such as through peer-reviewed assignments.



Interactivity in MOOCs happens in three main ways: learner-instructor, learner-learner, and learner-content. In general, learner-instructor interactivity is relatively limited due to the sheer number of students, though Coursera has been experimenting with volunteer “community teaching assistants.”

Learner-learner interactivity can take place via discussion boards, social media, blogs, and chat rooms, to name just a few, but just opening a discussion board or starting a Twitter conversation is not enough to ensure effective interaction. A recent study published in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching evaluated the use of a Stanford MOOC in a blended learning environment and found that students preferred to interact in local communities (i.e., with others in the face-to-face section of the course) than in global communities (the MOOC as a whole). Organizations using MOOCs for T&D can enhance the interactivity of the courses by providing virtual spaces for users to interact locally, such as within a workgroup or department. These conversations and discussions can even contribute to an organizational knowledge base.

Finally, learner-content interaction can be maximized through multimedia, simulations, gamification, and other strategies that go beyond clicking through a PowerPoint deck.

Group activities

Les MOOCIn addition to online discussions, good MOOCs also encourage user engagement and participation through group projects and activities. For example, learners in corporate MOOCs can role play, practice presentation and speaking skills, write business plans, and so on. Using collaboration technologies like Google Docs and Skype, these learners don’t need to be in the same room, or even in the same country. Group activities enhance the element of peer learning, which is responsible for a majority of the learning in business environments, and help ensure that learners are keeping up with the course. They can also foster communication and culture-building throughout an organization.

Over the past two articles, we’ve identified ten factors that contribute to MOOC success. Some of these factors are general guidelines for effective training, some are best practices for online learning, and others focus on gaining the maximum benefit from the technologies that make MOOCs unique. Not all of these factors are present in all MOOCs, but the format is flexible enough that it can be easily adapted to include them. For example, a company could require its employees to enroll in a Coursera course and then set up spaces for offline support, local interactivity, and group collaboration.

Taking all of these factors together, it becomes clear that MOOCs are not just a new technology in which to place existing training courses. Rather, the format and the myriad technologies available give us the tools we need to completely redesign the training process from the ground up, and innovative companies are starting to take advantage of these tools to create new, more engaging and more effective, models of instruction. 

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.